Mackenzie Musical numbers:”Lunch,””He’ll Never Know,””I Never Danced With You,””Requiem for a Lightweight,””One Step at a Time,””Offerings du Jour,””A Man Like Me, “”Skyline,””I’m No Angel,””Why Fall at All?,””What If?,””Time Stands Still, “”Perfectly Alone,””One Blink of an Eye.”
During the seven years “Lunch” has been in development — including a one-week run of an earlier version at Michigan’s Cherry County Playhouse and a star-laden “concept album” CD, surely somebody noticed that the musical is in deep trouble. But apparently not, for although it’s still referred to as a work in progress, here it is in its world premiere, kicking off a five-theater tour through Nov. 13 as the first production of the National Alliance of Musical Theater’s Harmony Project.
It’s an attempt by a trio of experienced popular music, television and film people to make the transition to musical theater. The attempt shows little likelihood of success.
To begin with, the concept is a theatrical misfire, and the score, despite several attractive melodies, notably “I Never Danced With You,” is generic, derivative pop rather than theater music. As for its endless length, the creative team now considers cuts necessary. But why weren’t they made long before this?
Book writer Rick Hawkins won an Emmy for his work on “The Carol Burnett Show, ” composer Steve Dorff is a two-time Grammy nominee,and lyricist John Bettis was a founding member of the Carpenters, so why is “Lunch” so disheartening? That’s part of the mystery of crossing over from pop, TV and film to theater.
On the plus side, the North Shore production that will go on to California’s Sacramento Music Circus and San Jose Civic Light Opera, Casa Manana Musicals in Fort Worth, Texas, and the Pittsburgh Light Opera has some splendid cast members. And its 12-musician pit band and the orchestrations they play under Brian Tidwell’s baton are first-rate.
But the muddled, sentimental book leaves no cliche unspoken, no audience unmanipulated, and is a tiresome burden on both sides of the footlights. What we seem to have is a passe “modern musical myth” echoing “Carousel,””Heaven Can Wait” and even “Company,” if we can believe that the creators of “Lunch” acknowledge the existence of Stephen Sondheim.
The musical’s central character is an “emissary from heaven,” an angel trainee who works the noon-to-one lunch shift during which he has to answer the prayers of five New Yorkers. He pushes an animated hot-dog cart and dons a variety of disguises including Germanic-nurse drag. And he’s given an assistant, a street bum who doesn’t know his own name.
The interlocking scenes are set in an upscale eatery, a hospital intensive care unit, a high-rise construction site, a hotel room and an airplane cabin. Exactly who the five praying New Yorkers are is never clear since almost everyone onstage needs help. We’re in trouble right from the opening title song’s lyric “There’s a magic time of day.” That magic time is, we’re asked to believe, the noon lunch hour. We don’t believe.
Among the paper-thin characters are a separated couple trying to marry off their daughter, a young woman attending to a comatose father in the hospital, a group of construction workers vying to replace the disliked foreman who fell to his death, a formerly plain, now glamorous, woman who was stood up at her prom by our angel-in-training, and an aging couple leaving New York for New Mexico.
The cast works like demons to get “Lunch” off the ground, notably Teri Ralston, Sherry Hursey, Heather Lee, Marilyn Cooper, Stanley Grover and Andrew Hill Newman as the central angel. Director Glenn Casale and choreographer Sharon Halley do what they can to invigorate matters, though they’re hampered by the North Shore’s in-the-round stage, a given that also limits set designer Russell Metheny (the show will be redesigned and restaged for its two proscenium dates). With the exception of Ralston’s tailored two-piece suit, the costumes leave a lot to be desired. Kirsten Benton, who sings well, should sue over what she’s asked to wear.
It’s possible that the most ingratiating performance is that of the hot-dog cart, which would seem to be operated by remote control but apparently has actress Laura Crook inside it. She gives it some wit, in short supply in “Lunch.”
A significant aspect of the Harmony Project is that “it provides the opportunity for new musicals to have viable national runs even if they don’t end up on Broadway.” That is a realistic approach to “Lunch,” for it’s highly unlikely to get nearer to Broadway than Beverly or Pittsburgh.